“We fight or we die!”
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, who co-wrote the screenplay with Dana Stevens, based on a story by Maria Bello and Stevens, The Woman King is a potent and astonishing story, inspired by the real-life female warriors, the Agojie, who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s.
Starring Viola Davis as General Nanisca, the film wastes no time in getting us into the crux of the narrative with an intense opening sequence, showing us the strength of the Agojie, as they stealthily approach and take down a tribe of men from the Oyo Empire, who are threatening their livelihoods, and have abducted Dahomean women to use as slaves. Led by Nanisca, they rescue the women and the clinical nature of this strike shows us everything we need to know, and it’s impressive to witness – complete with sharpened finger nails to take out the eyes of those who need extra encouragement to stop fighting.
That level of raw purity never wavers, but I didn’t find it gratuitous, this is an era of natural power, and they’ll take their moments to defend what’s theirs and to show invaders they’re not to be messed with. In response to the abductions, King Ghezo (John Boyega) decides to fully retaliate and orders a war on the Oyo, and this means Nanisca is given time and resources to train a fresh generation of female warriors to protect their world. Whilst the training begins, we’re introduced to Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a strong and independent young women given to the King by her father because she won’t marry the man her family wants her to – even though she’d be physically abused by him.
Interestingly, the move for Nawi to the Agojie isn’t something she doesn’t want, she already looks up to them but, on the flipside, has trouble with authority and following guidelines – but it’s also clear she has talent as a fighter and possible leader. While Nawi initially clashes with Nanisca, she also begins to make friends with Izogie (Lashana Lynch), and their connection becomes an important and real one, and Izogie learns of a secret that Nawi has – and it may just have an even bigger impact on the fight to come, in many ways. There’s a lot of character and story building, in a positive way.
The Woman King is also a smart story, and I’d say deserves repeat viewings due to those levels, as well as the importance of the history behind the Agojie’s existence and overall, it succeeds in telling a different story to one we’d usually know, with insight. Prince-Bythewood’s film is also enhanced by the Extras, which collectively offer up a great behind-the-scenes look to give us a clearer understanding of the how much went into producing this film and getting it right.
We all know that history has been whitewashed, and I loved the empowerment in this film, I’m in awe of the potency and the story being told, both physically and mentally. Take it in, embrace and learn from it. It helps that The Woman King also revels in its ensemble cast with gripping performances from all I’ve already mentioned, plus Sheila Atim, but it’s Viola Davis leading the way who is truly exceptional – and it feels bizarre that she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, but keep an eye out for her that BAFTA, which would be fully deserved.
In fact, and I refer back to the Extras, it’s the Viola Davis journey that’s fascinating both in front and behind the camera, alongside the representation and the stories. She talks of her body shape and how for so many years she didn’t fully appreciate her personal strength – and how she tapped into that for her training here. It’s a relevant story, and likewise growing up in an era where certain expectations are weighed upon you by society, I’m also thankful this is changing and in the words of Davis herself, you’re good enough, you’re strong enough, you can see yourself in this story – and that’s not only what it means to be human, but everything significant. Effortlessly endorsed.
The Woman King is available to Download and Keep now, and on Blu-ray and DVD from 13 February from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: https://amzn.to/3Yeo4kD
BONUS FEATURES AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY* and DVD:
- Feature Audio Commentary with Gina & Teri
- *A Caterpillar’s Destruction: Viola Davis on Set
- Representation Matters
I liked everything about this movie. Good review.
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Thank you! I let it ponder with me for a while, I think it deserved that as well! The Extras, if you get a chance, add even more depth – and there’s obviously so much here already.
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You’re welcome. I was lucky enough to borrow the Blu Ray with Extras from the library and watched it. The woman who plays her mentor looks astonishly different out of character. I think the movie is one of such empowerment in so many ways.